A WRITER to Hear All Sides wonders what I have to say about Shoaib Akhtar now that the bowler I re-christened the Rawalpindi Rickshaw is proving too good for the England batsmen.

My opinion of him hasn't changed, the problem being that you never know whether the Express or the Rickshaw is going to turn up. I saw what he was capable of when he joined Durham for the second half of the 2003 season, bending his back just often enough to ensure he was re-signed for the following year. In a couple of spells he was quite devastating.

He was supposed to be available from the start of the following season but turned up late because he was supposedly clearing his name after being accused of feigning injury in Pakistan. In fact, he played only two of the first nine championship games for Durham that season before the newly-appointed Pakistan coach, Bob Woolmer, persuaded him to change his mind about not playing in the Asia Cup.

By that time Durham were glad to see the back of him. When he wasn't injured he was ill, yet he always seemed to have enough energy to chase the girls in the sponsored car which he had demanded should be upgraded to something more sporty than the one originally offered.

It seems he behaved in much the same fashion when with Worcestershire last season, then very predictably failed to make any impression for the Rest of the World X1 in Australia. It was there, however, that he claims he was fired up by Freddie Flintoff saying: "He looks like Tarzan but he can't bowl."

The question of what motivates people like Shoaib would make a fascinating topic for the legions who witter on about sportsmen's focus, but it is extremely galling that the biggest showpony I have seen on a cricket field has been spurred into finding his best form against England.

It is always depressing when a hugely talented professional sportsman only rarely produces of his best. It is also an insult to his teammates.

SHOAIB says he wants to take 300 Test wickets, but at the age of 30 he has only 161, which leaves him well behind more dedicated contemporaries such as Makhaya Ntini and Heath Streak. The day is nearing when the top three will all be spinners following Anil Kumble's ten-wicket haul for India against Sri Lanka this week.

Kumble has 478 Test wickets but is still 100 behind Muthiah Muralitharan, who briefly led Shane Warne but is now 67 behind. The other members of the top five are Glenn McGrath (534) and Courtney Walsh (519). No other current player is anywhere near.

AT THE risk of being accused of racism, another sportsman I believe to be of dubious character is Dwain Chambers, who when last heard of was having trials for American Football, a sport not known for its extensive drug testing.

The former European 100 metres title holder intends to return to competition in the new year following his two-year ban, yet he has been daft enough to risk further punishment by apparently admitting in front of the BBC cameras that he was taking THG as early as the spring of 2002.

He claimed he didn't know what the clear liquid he was putting under his tongue was, having been told that the person supplying it could help him with his nutrition. "I was suspicious, but I was being tested and I wasn't coming out positive," he said.

That was because THG was designed to be undetectable, but his admission that he was taking it before the 2002 European Championships means he and his teammates in the 4x100 metres relay could lose their gold medals. That would be quite a kick in the teeth for Christian Malcolm, Marlon Devonish and Darren Campbell, the same trio who had to forfeit their 2003 World Championship silver medals when Chambers tested positive in August of that year.

Chambers spent most of his wealth trying to defend himself, but after his confession the authorities might want to take back some of his earlier winnings. Then there'll be more clear liquid rolling down his cheeks.

THE amazing thing about Saturday's fight at the ExCel Centre is that so many of the 15,000 boxing fans who were prepared to ignore all the evidence about Fraudley Harrison then began to boo him as early as the second round.

Perhaps, like me, they thought he would realise it was now or never and would give it a real go. We were sadly disillusioned and we must accept once and for all that the ex-Olympic champion intends to keep on plodding through fights, earning easy money without any intention of putting his body on the line. He is not worthy of our attention.

GEORGE wasn't the only sporting Best in Northern Ireland, it seems. There were three of them in the Ulster rugby team which beat Saracens last weekend. Prop Simon Best was the captain, his brother Rory, the hooker, scored the decisive try and flanker Neil was voted man of the match. Obviously they're still putting the Best foot forward.

Published: 16/12/2005